10 Lesser-Known Courtroom Dramas That Are Highly Rewatchable
These aren't your mainstream Oscar bait, but they're just as brilliant, tension- and plot-wise.
Here are some of the the hidden gems you'll want to watch over and over again.
1. The Verdict (1982)
Paul Newman stars as Frank Galvin, a washed-up lawyer who drinks his sorrows away in Boston bars. A medical malpractice case lands on his lap, involving a woman who's left in a vegetative state due to an anesthesia error. Initially, Frank plans to settle, but after visiting the victim, he has a change of heart and decides to take the case to court.
It's David versus Goliath as he goes against a top-tier defense attorney, Ed Concannon (James Mason). Every move Frank makes is countered with ruthless precision by Ed. Even with witnesses disappearing and evidence being suppressed, Frank fights tooth and nail in the courtroom.
2. Breaker Morant (1980)
Set during the Boer War, this Australian drama tells the story of three Australian lieutenants — Morant, Handcock, and Witton — charged with war crimes. They're accused of killing prisoners of war and a German missionary.
Defended by a young and inexperienced attorney, Major Thomas, the men claim they were acting under orders. Major Thomas, against all odds, tries to defend them in a court-martial where the deck is clearly stacked against them.
3. Primal Fear (1996)
Martin Vail (Richard Gere) is a slick Chicago defense attorney who loves the limelight. He takes on the case of Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton), a stuttering altar boy accused of brutally murdering an archbishop. As Martin investigates, he realizes the case isn't as straightforward as it appears.
A psychological game ensues between Martin and the prosecution, led by his ex-lover Janet (Laura Linney). Twists and turns appear at every corner of the case, with evidence of corruption and cover-ups within the church.
4. A Soldier's Story (1984)
In a racially charged drama set during World War II, an African American officer, Captain Davenport, is sent to investigate the murder of Sergeant Waters, another African American soldier. Davenport encounters resistance from both black and white soldiers, making the investigation far from straightforward. As he interviews witnesses, he uncovers racial tensions and personal vendettas within the unit.
Davenport has to solve the case before his temporary assignment ends, and he's pulled off the case.
5. The Caine Mutiny (1954)
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the movie follows the crew of the USS Caine, a minesweeper under the questionable command of Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart).
When the ship gets caught in a typhoon, Queeg's erratic behavior puts everyone in danger. This leads to a mutiny by two officers, Maryk and Keith, who relieve Queeg of his duties. They later find themselves court-martialed and must prove that their actions were justified.
The courtroom scenes are intense, pitting Queeg's quirks against the officers' desperate measures.
6. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Paul Biegler (James Stewart) is a small-town lawyer who's enjoying his semi-retirement until he's roped into defending Lt. Manion (Ben Gazzara), accused of murdering a tavern owner who allegedly raped his wife.
The courtroom is where the real drama unfolds. It's an all-out battle with the big city prosecutor, Claude Dancer (George C. Scott). Biegler pulls every rabbit out of his hat, from objecting to the prosecutor's lines of questioning to springing surprise witnesses.
7. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
Set in post-WWII Germany, this movie centers around four German judges who stand accused of crimes against humanity. They're defended by Hans Rolfe, while the prosecution is led by Colonel Lawson.
The trial gets complicated as it delves into the responsibility of the judges in the larger context of the atrocities committed. The defense argues that they were merely following laws of their country, however unjust.
8. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Based on an Agatha Christie play, the movie follows Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton), an aging barrister recovering from a heart attack, as he takes on the case of Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), accused of murdering a wealthy widow.
Vole's German wife, Christine, initially appears to be the perfect alibi, but she soon becomes the star witness for the prosecution. Sir Wilfrid uses his wits and cunning tactics to try and turn the tide.
9. Fracture (2007)
The drama begins when Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) shoots his wife in the face for having an affair but pleads not guilty. Young deputy DA Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), about to leave his job for a lucrative position in a big firm, takes on what appears to be an open-and-shut case. However, Ted, who represents himself in court, proves to be a crafty opponent.
Despite the lack of a murder weapon and Ted's confession being thrown out, Willy realizes he's in for the fight of his life against an opponent who's always two steps ahead.
10. Runaway Jury (2003)
The plot centers around a high-stakes lawsuit against a gun manufacturer, following a workplace massacre. Gene Hackman plays Rankin Fitch, a jury consultant for the defense, and Dustin Hoffman is Wendell Rohr, the prosecuting attorney.
But the real wild cards are juror Nick Easter (John Cusack) and his partner, Marlee (Rachel Weisz), who try to manipulate the jury from both inside and outside. Fitch and Rohr go to great lengths to secure a favorable jury, unaware that Nick and Marlee have their own agenda.